Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How to be a Good Idiot

1. Do not listen to people (or animals).
2. Do not read.
3. Multitask everything.
4. Pretend that acquaintances are friends.
5. Say "whatever" whenever religion, philosophy, or politics comes up.
6. Think that newer is better.
7. Avoid people in pain.
8. Put off thinking about death.
9. Know the cost of everything and value of nothing.
10. Prefer virtual reality to embodied reality.
11. Follow the crowd.
12. Substitute catch phrases for thought.
13. Hate silence.
14. Never sit still.
15. Pretend that all pleasures have equal value.
16. Think that all pain is bad.
17. Ignore history.
18. Ignore eternity.
19. Fear boredom.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to be a Good Teacher

1. Know your subject matter, but never be content with what you know.
2. Speak clearly; avoid stutter phrases.
3. Develop a rich and interesting vocabulary.
4. Listen to student's questions; answer; then ask if the answer was helpful. The last step is crucial.
5. Be jealous that the classroom be a sanctuary for learning.
6. Do not copy what the rest of culture is doing. The classroom should be different. Be a thermostat not a thermometer. (Thanks to Neil Postman for this.)
7. Do not be afraid of silence--either in your teaching or for the students.
8. Pray before class, either to yourself or publicly, given the situation. I usually emphasize God as "the Spirit of Truth" (John 14:26).
9. Improvise within a thoughtful form.
10. Do not let any student monopolize discussion. This can be awkward to correct, but it must be done. One say is to say "let's hear from some students who don't normally speak up."
11. Don't assume that students need to be entertained.
12. Dare to think on your feet. I have learned much while teaching.
13. Do not be afraid to admit your ignorance in class.
14. Always teach with a purpose. Make sure the students know this, either explicitly or implicitly.
15. Refer often to books, thus challenging students to become more literate. Sometimes as how many students have read a classic book. If no one has, call them ignoramuses.
16. When students make little sense while asking a question or making a comment, try to get their point by asking questions. If this fails, re-frame the comment to make some sense. No one should be humiliated in a class.
17. If the setting allows, pray with the class concerning particular needs as they come up in the lecture, discussion.
18. Refer often to Scripture, by quoting, alluding, or paraphrasing.
19. Do not let humor detract from learning, but use it to enhance learning. See A.W. Tozer's classic short essay, "The Use and Abuse of Humor."
20. Dress in such as way as to not draw attention to yourself, either by being too causal or too dressy. By all means, do not try to be sexy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Commentary on my Recent Debate

I need to give a clarification about my debate with Marvin Straus of the Boulder Atheists, held at The University of Colorado, Boulder on February 21.

Some are disappointed that I did not debate another philosopher or someone better at arguing. I have debates other philosophers and academics before. But let me explain why I debated Marvin. 

The only reason I debated Marvin Straus is that the Boulder Atheists wanted him to do it. The back story is that I originally wanted to do a question-answer time with the atheists, as Sean McDowell has been doing lately. They did not want that. Instead, they put forth Marvin, and I agreed. Perhaps I should not have, but I saw it as a good opportunity. Life permitting, I will consider debating stronger thinkers. But I do not take this lightly. It takes significant preparation, and my wife is in the hospital right now. I did talk to Wes Morriston about doing a dialogue about God and morality. We will see if that develops.

Moreover, plans are in the works for me to be on a panel discussion with Michael Tooley, another atheist and another Christian. Stay tuned on this.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Here is a simple spiritual discipline. Pray for people as you talk with them; pray for people as you see them in everyday life. Perhaps say a benediction for them silently: "May God bless you and keep you, May God's face shine upon you, and give you peace." This orients you to love God and people.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is the Human Condition?

On Friday, February 21, 2014, at 6:30 PM, I will be debating Mr. Marvin Straus, atheist activist, on the nature of the human condition. This will be held at The University of Colorado at Boulder campus. The event is free and open to the public. I will provide a detailed outline of my presentation.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jazz and Apologetics

Learning to Lament

          A vast literature on happiness has emerged in recent years that is based on “positive psychology.” Instead of emphasizing neurosis and disorders, psychologists are exploring what leads to human fulfillment. One book is called Authentic Happiness. That is good in its place, but we have little instruction on the wise use of woe. There is no book called Authentic Sadness. Virtuously aligning human feeling with objective fact is no small endeavor, and it takes us far beyond pleasurable sensations. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man.
Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed that universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could either be congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that object did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or out contempt.
If Lewis is right, then some objects and situations merit lament as well. But our affections are too often out of gear. We often weep when we should laugh and laugh when we should weep or we feel nothing when we should feel something. Decades ago, a pop song confessed, “Sometimes I don’t know how to feel.” We have all felt this confusion. Nevertheless, our affect should follow our intellect in discerning how to respond to a world of groaning in travail and awaiting its final redemption (Romans 8:18-21). We live in between times and “under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes puts it. Accordingly, we are obligated to know what time it is.
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Sadness has its seasons as does happiness; this is simply because God’s creation has fallen into sin and has yet to reach its culmination in The New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). Before then, we are still exiles, but living in hope. If we are to be godly stewards of our emotions, we must know the signs of the times, know our present time, and know what these times should elicit within us.

          Our sadness should be judicious and obedient, not hasty, melodramatic, or inane. This is a moral and spiritual matter, not one of mere feelings. Emotions easily err. After the Colorado Rockies baseball team was eliminated from a playoff game some years ago, a Rockies fan reported on television that this loss was like “a death in the family.” That struck me as pathetic, if not daft—a sadness spoiled by a disordered soul. I wonder how her family members responded to this, since the sadness was not rightly related to the event that occasioned it.

Sadness intrudes unbidden in a variety of dark shades. I cannot offer a taxonomy or hierarchy of it here. (Robert Burden did so in 1621 in his Anatomy of Melancholy.) Rather, consider one often-misunderstood form of sorrow—lament. What is it? Frederick Buechner wrote that “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” In that spirit, lament is where our deep sadness meets the world’s deep wounds. And this world has its wounds. The largest wound of all wounds was the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered more than anyone ever had or ever will, and with the greatest possible effect. His cry was the apex of all laments, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; See Psalm 22:1). It is only because of this lament that our laments gain their ultimate meaning. If the perfect Son of God can lament and not sin, so may we. Further, that anguished cry was answered by his resurrection on the third day.

Christians lament because objective goods have been violated or destroyed. Creation is deemed good by God himself (Genesis 1). Yet humans have rebelled against God, themselves, each other, and creation. As the Preacher puts it, “All things are wearisome, more than one can say.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). In Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff notes that Jesus blessed those who mourn (Matthew 5:4), because they are “wounded visionaries,” seeking genuine goods that escape their grasp. In this sense, their godly frustration is their blessing—and the aching will one day be answered.

But when we lament, we do not do so in a void of meaninglessness. Even though many of our desires are disordered, and thus vain or evil, a good many of them remain in line with God’s desire to restore shalom. We cry out over the loss of a child, over war, over stupidity, cupidity, mortality, and more. Paul was in anguish over the unbelief his countrymen.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel (Romans 9:2-4; see also 10:1).
But Paul never descended into despair or gave up the cause of Christ. Even having suffered terrible torments for Christ, he marched on, knowing that the End puts all the means into place and that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:48).
Lament is not only a literary genre of Scripture (consider the many Psalms of lament, such as 22, 88, 90, as well The Book of Lamentations), but is an indelible category of human existence east of Eden. It can be done well or poorly, but it cannot be avoided by any but sociopaths. Fallen mortals bemoan life’s suffering, often mixing their grief with outrage. Whether outwardly or only inwardly, they raise their voices, shake their fists, beat their breasts, and shed hot tears. The Negro spiritual intones, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” The blues, leaning on the spirituals, lament in a thousand ways. “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out,” cries Eric Clapton. When Duke Ellington played his wordless lament, “Mood Indigo,” on his first European tour, some in the audience wept. Even heavy metal, full of thunder, rage, and debauchery, often laments life’s burdens. In Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” the singer’s voice is that of cocaine. It lies, enslaves, manipulates, and pulls the strings of the addicted. This is a roaring, electronic lament. But there is no hope; it is protest without promise.

We all bewail the injustices, suffering, and terrors of this life, but not all worldviews make room for the full expression of human personality amidst these misfortunes. For instance, the Zen poet, Isa, lost several children and his young wife. In his deep sorrow, he went to a Zen master who told him that “Life is dew.” It all passes away and one must adjust to the inevitable.  This is the Buddhist teaching of non-attachment to the impermanent. But Isa, made in the image of God and wanting a better answer, wrote a short poem: “Life is dew, life is dew…and yet, and yet.” Isa could not accept the cure, because Zen did not understand the disease. Life is more than dew. Zen let him down, because it would not let him inhabit his sorrow.

If we have established something of the meaning of lament biblically and philosophically, we need delve into its practice in this world of woe and wonder, of weeping and laughing, morning and dancing (Eccles. 3:1-8).
First, those who take the Bible to be the knowable revelation of God about the things that matter most (2 Timothy 3:15-16) should discover the genre of lament in Scripture. Besides the Psalms of lament and Lamentations, perhaps Ecclesiastes is the richest biblical resource. The Teacher is weighed down by the seeming futility of life, but realizes that sadness gives needed, if unwanted, lessons.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
  Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4).
Ecclesiastes, more than any other book of Holy Scripture, has given me the perspective and language of lament necessary for my own sad sojourn during the last fifteen years. It is a deep well of tough wisdom for the weary soul.
Second, lament requires a deep knowledge of God, of the world, and of ourselves. It is often said that our hearts should break where God’s heart breaks. We should “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), and not the opposite.  To adjust our emotions to reality, we must gain knowledge from the Bible and sound thinking (Romans 12:1-2). We are not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). A corollary is that we should know what grieves the Holy Spirit, and grieve along with him.
Third, lament is not grumbling, which is selfish, impatient, and pointless. The children of Israel grumbled against God even as God was providing for their pilgrimage, just as he promised. Paul says, Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Phil 2:14). While the distinction between grumbling and lament is not easy to make (I may defend my selfish outbursts as laments), it is a real distinction, since Scripture encourages lament and warns against grumbling.  Isaiah declares a lament was needed, “The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth” (Isaiah 22:12). James says much the same to Christians who should lament over their sins:  “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:9-10).
One day God will lift up those who mourn and grieve before him on his terms. He will judge and resurrect the entire cosmos in the end (Daniel 12:2). On this, we place our trust and direct our hope. Yet the Lamb then in our midst was once scared and even forsaken by his Father for the sake of our redemption. God counts our tears before he takes them away (Psalm 56:8; Revelation 21:4). Learning to lament is, then, part of our lot under the sun. We and our neighbors are better for it, tears and all.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Date Corrected for Debate

Marvin Strauss and I will be discussing the Christian and atheist views of the human condition on Friday, February 21, 6:30, 1B50 of Eaton Humanities. This room can hold 255 people. This is on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus. It is free and open to anyone.

The format is that Mr. Strauss begins; I follow; then we each have a ten minutes rebuttal; then questions from the audience, which will be written down and sorted, then given to the speakers.

My Beloved Wife Who Needs Your Prayers

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Study and Improvisation in Apologetics

Study and Improvisation

Some wrongly think that inspiration in apologetics or Christian witness in general has little or nothing to do with previous study. This is dead wrong—for both apologetics and jazz. The best improvisers practice the most, such as John Coltrane. This saxophone virtuoso was known to practice incessantly and even right before bed, causing him to fall asleep with his saxophone. When Jesus told his disciples not to worry how they would respond when they were imprisoned for their faith, he did not say not to study, but not to worry (Mark 11:13; Luke 12:11).  Moreover, the disciples had studied and lived with the Master Teacher for about three years before his statement. They were already well-equipped to produce under pressure.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Defense of Christianity

Defense is proper and necessary because in every age historic Christianity will be under attack. Defense does not mean being on the defensive. One must not be embarrassed about the use of the word defense. The proponents of any position who are alive to their own generation must give a sufficient answer for it when questions are raised about it. Thus, the word defense is not used here in a negative sense, because in any conversation, in any communication which is really dialogue, answers must be given to objections raised. Such answers are necessary in the first place for myself as a Christian if I am going to maintain my intellectual integrity, and if I am to keep united my personal, devotional and intellectual life--Francis Schaeffer, 1912-1984.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Article about Groothuis Talk

Atheism and Christianity on the Human Condition (Corrected)

Marvin Strauss and I will be discussing the Christian and atheist views of the human condition on Friday, February 21, 6:30, 1B50 of Eaton Humanities. This room can hold 255 people. This is on the University of Colorado-Boulder campus. It is free and open to anyone.

The format is that Mr. Strauss begins; I follow; then we each have a ten minutes rebuttal; then questions from the audience, which will be written down and sorted, then given to the speakers.
The apologist does not recite talking points (like talking heads), but instead finds conversation points through the exchange of ideas. Sparks fly and may ignite the friendly fires of truth.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Sarah Geis, MA, an Affiliate Faculty Member at Denver Seminary, will join me for the question-answer time after my lecture on "Spiritual formation and the life of the mind," to be given at Denver Seminary tomorrow at 7:00 PM. This event is sponsored by The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. This event is free and open to the public. A five page outline will be provided as well as other free materials.
Recommended reading on Spiritual Formation and the Life of the Mind

Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind. Servant, 1963.
Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace. Baker Books, 1997; reprinted by Wifp and Stock.
Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds. Baker, 1994.
Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life. InterVarsity Press, 1979.
George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Eerdmans, 1998.
J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With all Your Mind, 2nd ed. NavPress, 2013.
J.I. Packer, Knowing God. InterVarsity Press, 1973.
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book. Eerdmans, 2008.
John Piper, Think. Crossway, 2011.
Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality. Tyndale, 1972
Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There. InterVarsity, 1968.
Francis Schaeffer, The New Super-spirituality. InterVarsity. No longer available as a booklet, but included in The Collected Works of Francis Schaeffer.
James Schall, The Live of the Mind. Intercollegiate Studies, 2008

James Sire, Habits of the Mind. InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Of Love and Suffering

Only love makes suffering bearable. 
Only suffering tests the mettle of love.